The University of St. Thomas Center for Intercultural Learning and Community Engagement (CILCE) and Office for Service-Learning hosted their annual Community Engagement Celebration on April 27.

The event brought together community members and St. Thomas faculty, staff, and students to reflect on this year’s partnerships, share ideas to strengthen and sustain their common efforts, and celebrate accomplishments in community-based learning.

Following the reflection and discussion sessions, this year’s outstanding community engagement and service-learning award recipients were recognized for their contributions and also received financial awards.

Awards were presented to:

Nekima Levy-Pounds, associate professor, School of Law, Faculty Service-Learning Award

Levy-Pounds directs the Community Justice Project (CJP) at St. Thomas’ School of Law.  The project offers students an opportunity to work for racial justice and reconciliation through the Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services, which provides counseling and legal clinics for underserved individuals and communities.

In October 2009, Levy-Pounds and the CJP published “Evaluation of Gang Databases in Minnesota & Recommendations for Change” in collaboration with the St. Paul National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The 40-plus-page report garnered local and national attention.

On many occasions, she has led efforts for juvenile justice reform in Hennepin County, mobilizing community leaders to take part in public policy reform, and testifying with her students at the state Legislature.  A highlight of her work is a partnership she led between the CJP and the St. Paul NAACP to create Brotherhood Inc., a program that works with African-American youth and young men who have been involved … or are at risk of being involved … in the justice system.  Brotherhood Inc. provides comprehensive, culturally sensitive social services and educational opportunities, as well as on-site employment, and helps participants envision and achieve successful futures.

St. Paul NAACP, Community Partner Award

In 2006, the CJP and the St. Paul NAACP, under the leadership of Nathaniel Khaliq, formed a partnership to challenge laws and policies that negatively impact communities of color.  Together, the CJP and NAACP engaged law students, local youth and community members to address civil rights issues.  They wrote reports that led to the retraining of city prosecutors and legislative changes regarding Minnesota’s databases on gangs.

Hugo Chan, Outstanding Student Service-Learning Award

This year’s Outstanding Student Service-Learning Award went to Hugo Chan, a third-year law student who has had an interest in service-learning since his undergraduate years when he was a research assistant to faculty engaged in service-learning. Chan has been a part of the CJP for two years and worked on the gang-database-reform project.  He also worked on a police-brutality database project and served as a student coordinator for School of Law’s “How Are the Children?” symposium, which this year explored the effects of parental incarceration on children. 

Roscoe Heaton and Billy Baker, Graduate Student Community Engagement Award

Heaton and Baker made exemplary contributions to St. Thomas’ CJP. Nominator Artika Tyner, a clinical law fellow, noted that they laid a solid foundation for the future of Brotherhood Inc. and the legacy it will leave by improving the quality of life for young African-American men in St. Paul.  

Adam Baker, Undergraduate Community Engagement Leadership Award

Baker demonstrated extraordinary commitment to community engagement through his role as a VIA (Volunteers In Action) student director, participation in a variety of St. Thomas programs (including VISION, McNair Scholars and Linkages), and through exceptional personal initiative.  VIA Director Jacob Cunningham says of Adam, “his most significant contribution to the program is his understanding on what it means to ‘partner’ with the local community. He has done an amazing job educating his fellow students on what it means to serve alongside our community partners – to not see the community as broken and needing fixing but rather to see at is whole and to see the relationship formed as a step forward for everyone.”

CILCE  and the Office for Service-Learning thank all those who submitted nominations for the awards and “for the continued efforts of the St. Thomas community to educate students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good in our community.”